When you are someone who deeply cares about people and the world, you are bound to have opinions about how things can be better, what would make a bigger impact or how to achieve the best outcome. If you are smart, involved and invested, you likely have opinions. Most people who never give advice are not necessarily kinder people, but often resigned that there is anything they can say that really matters or they simply don’t care. If you want to tell people things, you are most likely passionate. I truly respect that and it’s actually why I shifted the way I now hear other people’s advice even when I know I didn’t ask for it.
Regardless of our passion and best intentions though, it makes no sense to spend any of our time and energy if it was going to land in a black hole, or even worse, if we are going to be misunderstood and possibly attacked for it. It is, therefore, so important to step back and think twice before we say something. There is a saying in my culture that roughly translates as: “measure many times, but cut only once.” I would say, think it over many times before you actually speak, or communicate, what you want to say.
I believe that, regardless of our good intentions, it is our job to assure that what we are wanting to say is not only said as clearly as we could possibly say it, but is not falling on deaf ears and is actually making a difference for the person we are speaking to. The most important first step is: Understand why you want to say what you are saying, look for the agenda you may have, resolve for yourself that your communication is not merely a reaction to something that happened to you, or a response to something that isn’t happening now. If you really look at this, often times you may realize that you are reacting to something and it will make it less important for you to speak to the person you originally wanted to give an advice to. You may realize, this is your own inner insecurity and something that isn’t so much about what you are to tell others but what you need to resolve with yourself.
I attended many transformational programs in my attempt to better understand myself and others. In one of my first seminars, during the conversations about selling the next program, I raised my hand to acknowledge the current seminar team (volunteers). The leader asked me if I was open to having a breakthrough. When I accepted, she asked: “what had you raise your hand exactly during the sales conversation and not a moment sooner?” Initially, I really thought that this was on my mind an entire evening, but she insisted that there was no accident I interrupted the sales conversation and not a moment earlier. My eyes teared up as I realized, I was ashamed that I couldn’t afford to take the next program and was considering volunteering as it would provide me with the training and I wouldn’t have to pay. Suddenly, an entire group of 80+ participant was moved by my transparency. Those who could afford to go on were moved by my courage and those that couldn’t now new the way to continue their journey of transformation even though they didn’t have the money to pay for it.
In short, I made a difference. In my case, what I had to say was uncovered with a support of a very trained seminar leader. We don’t always have that luxury, but it is always wise to think through what we want to say and why we are actually saying it.
Even when we are clear that we really have something to say, it is never OK to just “dump” our view on someone else without first asking their permission. Dumping is simply inappropriate, but asking permission to say something allows the other person to set themselves up and be ready to hear what we have to say. This doesn’t guarantee they will like it, most people just want to avoid looking bad at all cost so they won’t take feedback well at all. However, being granted permission usually prevents people from getting very defensive, and we have a fair shot at being heard.
After having the kids, I noticed my husband would get defensive when I made suggestions to him. Luckily, we talked about it openly and he told me that he didn’t get defensive because he disagreed with me, but because of how and when I brought it up. In moments when my husband was pressed with time and already feeling like he was failing, when I made suggestion, it sounded to him more like a complaint than constructive criticism and he wouldn’t take it well. In addition, he often saw it as lack of gratitude and appreciation for all the things that he actually was doing and doing well. This now has me work harder on finding a way to still speak my truth instead of forcing it down when it is convenient for me. I also do my best to include my gratitude before I was talking say anything and this has really improved our relationship.
Lastly, we want to ask, is what we are saying really making a difference to that person? I often feel like downloading my advice in comment section on social media and especially when people already openly ask for advice. But here is a question I ask: what is a difference we are trying to make and frankly, why are we giving it away for free? Most people are not going around wanting to give free advice to people who are in desperate need for it. We are far more likely to want to say something to people we feel are doing well otherwise, it’s just this one thing that we feel we can add. It often comes from us wanting to sound smart and be seen as someone qualified rather than an actual commitment to making a difference. This is why, lately, every time I have an urge to give unsolicited advice, I write my own post about it and post on my Facebook, Instagram, or in this blog. At least this way, I am honest with the difference I want to make: I want to be seen and heard for the wisdom I share with people. It takes discipline, but it’s far more satisfying at the end.
When it comes to unsolicited advice, there are rare occasions when the urge to communicate is stronger than everything I mentioned above. I believe in exceptions though. There are times and situations where we know the other person can’t even see that something that we have so much knowledge about and because that is a blind spot for them. If the damage of the other person not seeing something is high, we may take a risk and say something anyway. But if we are to do that, we have to address the elephant in a room, and call it what it is. It may sound as simple as: “I know this is the advice you never asked for, but my knowing X makes me want to say Y so strongly and I hope you can consider it as I am really wanting to make a difference as wish someone have done it with me.”
At the end of the day, the truth is, nobody really has to listen to our musings. As wise and important as we may think we are, I believe people have freedom to live their life the best way they know how and have no obligation to hear us out. If we remember that, I think we can nail the best thing to do most of the time.